Sri Lanka’s teachers have been protesting for a while now, but with little success
It’s always healthy to see a regime allowing for protests and dissent. At present protestors are having a field day; farmers associations and teachers taking the lead. Despite that we also heard a former vociferous ex-minister stating that governments mustn’t be deterred by protests and must carry on regardless with their work. The ex-minister cited Singapore’s leaders who were ruthless and credited that way of rule for the country’s massive and steady progress.
We have a president who, despite his military background, adopted a soft approach with the people and was hard on government and state officials. Now President Gotabaya says that he would take tough measures when administering the country in the future.
We read Gotabaya’s mind when he stepped into the Department of Motor Traffic and pulled up officials because he thought that the system there needed a boost. He gave them like a month for the officials there to put the establishment in order.
What surprises is that he couldn’t do that with the rest of the country. The reason for that could be because he concentrated on working at the grassroots level-with villagers-and state institutes. He is not a politician and we cannot expect him to be one so soon. Hence it seems there is a distance between him and the public. And he wouldn’t learn public relations skills from his brother Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa. Just the other day the prime minister was seen putting one arm around Joseph Stalin and exchanging pleasantries when he met those unhappy teachers who are staging protests and demand a pay hike among other wants. Even a raging elephant would kneel in front of Mahinda; the skills the man has in public relations suffice to write a book on the subject.
Now the efficient manner in which the country’s citizens are being vaccinated has received applause from lawmakers and health authorities the world over. His programme-or to be precise the idea-to turn to carbonic fertilizer has also received much attention and encouragement from far thinking individuals. But the problem lies in the process he uses in attempting to implement it in a hurry; regardless of whether farmers are inconvenienced or not.
When the president came into power he gave all the indication that he would move ahead with the five forces-farmers, doctors, teachers, monks and workers. The individuals representing these factors are not easy to control. Right now it is the teachers.
In the past years strikes by them have put regimes on the back foot and chocked economies. But some of the most talked about strikes failed after promising starts. 1893 marked the first strike by workers in this island. The employees of ‘Colombo Printers’ adopted a protest procedure, but the struggle lasted just six days and the employees caved in meekly. They returned to work under the conditions of the management. Then there was the protest by laundry workers in 1896 and one by employees of Times of Ceylon in 1931. All these struggles by workers failed because there was lack of support for them.
These present day teachers looked like they had pushed the regime against the wall. But their protests are happening at a time when there is online education happening and at a time when schools are closed. And apart from this there are other teacher associations and groups which are not with them and supporting the government’s initiative to keep the ‘wheel of education’ moving. For the record the two state run television channels Rupavahini and Eye have dedicated much of their air time for online education programmes.
Students and parents too are in the mind frame of continuing with the process of education; hence there might not be room in their minds for the protesting teachers.
The teachers who are protesting certainly have the numbers, but what ‘upsets the apple cart’ for them is their own ‘kind’ continuing with the teaching process using online teaching as a tool. Some teachers, willing to teach, have openly said that they cannot approve staying away from classroom work at the expense of the future of students.
Even Mahinda Rajapaksa came close to finding a solution, but what he offered these disgruntled teachers seemed not enough to make them return to duty. Politicians know the tricks of the trade as to how to get people who agitate to return to work. Very soon we might see a government notice which says that the regime considers those who are not in the classroom and teaching to have left their jobs. This danger will be present of course once the government starts the education process inside the classroom in full swing.
Ceylon Teachers’ Union ‘leader’ Joseph Stalin is a shrewd man. He is now more famous than revolutionary Soviet political leader Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin of Russia; this is of course from a Sri Lankan context. UNP Leader Wickremesinghe also had nice words for him in parliament at the crucial time when the Ceylon Teachers’ Union General Secretary was arrested recently.
But he and his loyal teachers or comrades are still without a breakthrough after all these efforts. Even if the scale tilts in their favour there are no finances in the government’s kitty to give these teachers there financial demands. At this crucial time when the state needs teachers to resume classroom education the fight by the teachers has also reached a crescendo. The state also doesn’t seem to be back peddling at this time in this regard. This writer recalls an old saying apt to be used at times like this which can be used either way. ‘The capable ‘General’ pulls out victory from the jaws of defeat. The incapable ‘general’ pulls out defeat from the jaws of victory’.